I recall the time I discovered Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I recall the first few chapters of the first book he had translated and released in America, The Shadow of the Wind and how his prose captivated me. I felt it instantly, that sense, that Ah-ha moment, and I knew was reading art.
We often talk about artistry in all its forms because reconnecting to the work of art, the practice of art and the celebration of art proved a pivotal part of expanding our lives as we moved beyond the narrowing funnel of addiction.
On these pages we’ve celebrated the music of the likes of The Eagles (Hotel California’s guitar parts… oh man, oh man…) the acting of the Oscars and the kitchen wizardry of many. We enjoy our less than brilliant DIY artistry with things like chocolate or dough or wooden signs as much as we thrill at the work of timeless painting. We all have this capacity for art, even if it’s simply to experience it.
As a writer I focus on the art of words, even if most of what I write is more like widget making. Most of what makes a living is grinding. Blogs like these are impulsive, not nuanced, by definition. The work and practice to make art of words that tell stories takes time not afforded to bloggers and content providers and even many journalists. Many of us make our livings and then we find time do our art.
That is why the escape of a good book is so treasured. These blessed souls produced the art, had it bound and titled and preserved to be shared with others. Of course many books fall far short. The economic pressures and “trends”and lack of patience or practice conspire to produce a story that is something different. Maybe these books are like the garage bands of writing, incubators of practice from which a few may emerge to be celebrated as art.
Nevertheless, I am forever on the hunt for words that become art. A page on our website captures sentences that jumped out and touched us. The list could and should go on and on, as so many writers have connected a moment or two to paint their prose across the heavens. Zafon for me, is one of those writers.
I just finished the third in a Scott Turow-like trilogy that follows a city and some people over time but not really in a way that each book follows the other. In fact, the weakness of Zafon’s books is they lose the narrative focus and crisp center of Shadow of the Wind with each successive book. But despite plot flaws that emerge, the lyric artistry of his prose remains.
I have a top twelve list I wrote out shortly after reading this book because I knew it was the first in a long time, despite having read hundreds of books in the recent years, that inserted it onto my list of all-time favorites. I looked around for the list and haven’t found it yet, but I know for certain some that are on it because they grabbed me just as Zafon did.
David James Duncan’s, The River Why, and Margaret Craven’s I Heard the Owl Call my Name, are fixtures on the list. John Irving has several that float among the fringes, never quite cementing their place but always in contention. The Great Gatsby and Count of Monte Crisco are on the list. The Old Man and the Sea is probably still at the top, the single best example I’ve ever read of the all-important command for writers to show not tell.
If you haven’t read anything from Zafon, pick up a copy. And feel free to comment below to share your favorite artists of the written word. The list could and should go on and on, because we are a culture blessed with artistic writers.